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Declaration of the OAS General Secretariat on the Promotion and Protection of Freedom of Religion or Belief

  February 27, 2023

The fundamental right to freedom of religion or belief is part of the origins of human rights treaties and conventions. It is related to the freedom to identify with a particular belief, as well as to change religion, and even not to have any particular religious affiliation. Freedom of religion or belief is closely linked to the principle of freedom and human integrity in all its dimensions, as well as to the principle of plurality and diversity, taking into account the wealth of religious and spiritual expressions that are part of our territories.

For these reasons, guaranteeing freedom of religion or belief continues to be a fundamental responsibility of States. This translates into legal frameworks and public policies that recognize the plurality of religious, belief and spiritual voices, that enable treatments and paths of democratic dialogue, that account for the richness and diversity of the world of beliefs, and with it, that prevent the privilege or predominance of particular and individual expressions over the rest.

The resolution "Strengthening protection and promotion of the right to freedom of conscience and religion or belief," in section XXV of the Resolution for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights of 2022, approved during the 52nd OAS General Assembly, highlights the importance of these issues. However, this document also brings to light a set of pressing problems in our region: the persecution and discrimination of religious and belief groups (also called “members of religious minority groups”), as well as the presence of acts of intolerance and violence in the name of religion.

For all this, it is essential to understand that religious freedom or belief as a human right is, in turn, linked to the defense of the rights of all individuals and groups, in all areas. Discussing freedom of religion or belief not only implies creating mechanisms to recognize the existence of particular groups of believers, but also represents a right that is intrinsically related to respect and promotion of other identities, other expressions, other freedoms, other rights.

Hence, from the General Secretariat,

1. We urge member states to prioritize the development of guarantees -both legal and political- that account for the importance of religious freedom and belief as a principle of recognition, visibility and promotion of religious plurality and belief as a basis of democracy.

2. We call for States to promote spaces for meeting and inclusive dialogue that allow the plurality of religious expressions and beliefs to be known, with the aim of preventing the spread of discriminatory stereotypes and prejudiced actions against members of religious minority groups.

3. We request the creation of spaces for dialogue and exchange -among States, specialists, religious and belief communities, spiritual practitioners, civil society and other multilateral instances- for the development of specific standards for the protection of religious minority groups, for the prevention of discrimination based on religion or belief, and instrumentalization of religious discourse for the violation of other rights and freedoms.

4. We invite States, civil society organizations, faith-based organizations, and religious and spiritual groups, to build spaces for meeting and mutual recognition -both nationally and multilaterally- that allow accounting for the multiplicity and richness of interactions between the religions and spiritualities present in our societies, from their vast and unfathomable wealth of expressions, manifestations and positions.

Reference: E-008/23